When you're deciding to keep or toss dairy from your diet, be sure to consider the bacteria in your body.
Almost all bacteria love milk and use the various components for nutrition and growth. And a healthy microbiome is one with a diverse set of nutrients from which the bacteria can draw. If we rely too much on one source of food, this could lead to a higher level of specific bacteria capable of causing disease, as well as inflammation – a process that is particularly common with many foods high in sugar and fat content. Eventually, dysbiosis may occur, possibly leading to irritable bowel syndrome, weight gain and, in an ironic twist of fate, cow-milk allergy.
If you do want to rely on dairy for calcium, you can make choices that make dairy safer by selecting good bacteria over bad. From the bacterial view, the best option is to go fermented.
In human milk, antibodies and immune cells prevent pathogens from growing, allowing good bacteria such as Bifidobacterium to thrive. Though normal cow-based dairy products do not have such a selection process, this can be implemented through the ancient art of fermentation. Adding good bacterial species such as Bifidobacterium or Lactobacillus to raw dairy products offers them a first crack at the nutrient resources.
They can then utilize what they need to grow and produce numerous factors to prevent pathogen growth. They also produce factors responsible for anti-inflammatory effects, metabolic balance and even psychological calm.
With fermented milk, we end up getting all the nutrients and ensure our microbial population is diverse and healthy. Choosing products such as yogurt, kefir and cheese will meet that goal by controlling the bacteria and providing even more nutritive value. Yet one must be careful to ensure these products do not contain significant amounts of other ingredients, such as sugar and fat, which are definitely not needed and should be avoided.
If you're ambitious, you can make your own at home. Many people choose to make their own yogurts, kefir and cheese.
If this doesn't sound like an option, there are more than enough already fermented products in the grocery store.
Health Advisor contributors share their knowledge in fields ranging from fitness to psychology, pediatrics to aging.
Jason Tetro, a Toronto-based microbiologist with more than 25 years experience in research, is the author of the science bestseller, The Germ Code. You can follow him on Twitter at @JATetro